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City, county probe 53 smoking complaints



Published: Tue, July 3, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.

Each has its own batch of

allegations to look into.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN — The City Health District has launched 16 investigations into complaints of violations of the state’s new ban on smoking in public places.

Those probes have really just begun, said Neil H. Altman, city health commissioner, noting that no violation notices have been issued.

Meanwhile, the Mahoning County Board of Health has launched 37 investigations into alleged violations, said Rick Setty, director of environmental health.

Ohio voters approved the smoking ban in public places and workplaces in a referendum last November.

Setty said he was a “little surprised” at how few complaints the county has received.

There were 58 complaints filed between May 3 and Wednesday, but a number of them involved the same establishments, so the cases were reduced to 37, he said.

Altman said there were no duplications between the city and county lists.

He noted the city’s efforts were delayed because of a problem with an e-mail address that resulted in enforcement information being sent to the wrong location.

People wanting to file complaints were initially directed to a statewide toll-free number — 1-866-559-6446 — to report violations, but now can contact their local health department directly, Altman said.

The local departments are charged with investigating the complaints, he said.

Checking up

The City Health District has been able to check every restaurant and bar in the city to make sure that ashtrays have been removed and “no smoking” signs have been put in place in compliance with state regulations, Altman said, noting that amounts to some 500 establishments.

Enforcement really requires at least a part-time employee, Altman said, but his agency hasn’t been able to hire any additional personnel for the job as the state has provided it with only $2,900 in enforcement money so far.

The state is supposed to set up an enforcement fund fueled by fines paid by violators. But just how soon and how much money will be available is uncertain, he said.

Setty said the typical complaint has been a lack of the required “no smoking” signs, failure to remove ashtrays or that someone is smoking and the business doesn’t stop them.

People have resorted to using beer cans and breath freshener tins as ashtrays, but the investigators can’t seize or examine those receptacles because they are considered to be private property, Setty said.

Most complaints occur at night after health department employees are gone for the day, resulting in most of the investigations being done after the fact, he said.

County violations so far

Setty said the county has issued two notices of violation so far, one to Treasure Island Skill Games on Market Street in Boardman and one to Oscar’s, a bar and restaurant on the Boardman-Canfield Road in Boardman.

The businesses have 30 days to respond, he said.

A man answering the telephone at Treasure Island said neither the owner nor the manager was available for comment.

A man answering the phone at Oscar’s identified himself as an employee and said the complaint against that business involved a lack of “no smoking” signs, but the problem has been rectified with the signs now in place.

The county still lists both investigations as “open.”

gwin@vindy.com


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